News in Brief 19 April 2016 – Geneva (AM)

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The aftermath of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake which hit Ecuador on 16 April 2016. Photo: UNICEF Ecuador

Ecuador quake response under way to help "shattered" communities

The extent of the damage caused by Ecuador's devastating earthquake is massive, UN agencies have announced.

The 7.8 magnitude tremor was the strongest to hit the country since 1979, with more than 400 reported fatalities and thousands of injured.

Here's Jens Laerke, spokesperson for UN humanitarian coordinating agency, OCHA:

"The worst damage is in the canton of Pedernales in Manabi province, which has been declared a disaster zone by authorities. Access to Pedernales has been limited due to damage to infrastructure particularly the roads… What is clear is that thousands of people's lives have been shattered profoundly by this earthquake."

Latest information indicates that the earthquake and some 300 aftershocks that hit the north of the country destroyed more than 800 buildings including schools and hospitals.

Myanmar prisoner release a "step in the right direction"

Myanmar's release of dozens of political prisoners is a step towards national reconciliation, but much more needs to be done to protect fundamental freedoms in the country.

That's according to UN human rights chief Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein.

His comments come after 83 detainees were released on Sunday as Myanmar celebrated its new year, a move which followed the liberation of 199 political prisoners earlier this month.

Among their number were students who were arrested in 2015 following a protest against the national education law.

While welcoming the prisoner releases and the government's commitment to national reconciliation, UN High Commissioner Zeid said the same should be done for "all those who have been arbitrarily detained" in the country under outdated laws.

These include interfaith activists, Pwint Phyu Latt and Zaw Zaw Latt, sentenced in February to two years’ hard labour and U Gambira, a prominent figure in the 2007 Saffron Revolution, who is currently on trial.

Jordan's free work permit scheme to help thousands of Syrians

Measures to help increasingly vulnerable Syrian refugees find work in Jordan have been welcomed by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Under a free work permit scheme, up to 78,000 Syrians will be able to get a job in the short term, and thousands more will benefit in future.

Here's UNHCR's Ariane Rummery speaking in Geneva:

"This is a very welcome development indeed…the permits will be yearly work permits and it's really one of a suite of measure that need to take place to stabilise the situation. The situation for refugees particularly out of camps in Jordan has been deteriorating…we found in a recent study that 85 per cent, or nine in 10 actually were living below the poverty line in Jordan."

More than 600,000 Syrian refugees now shelter in Jordan after fleeing more than five years of conflict.

Around 85 per cent of them live in urban areas where they have been forced to work on the black market.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva.

Duration: 2’51″


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